Back in the 70s, when I was younger and dumber,
I was hitch hiking from Denver to Greeley.
Two men picked me up.
They were fresh out of prison
on parole for serious felonies.
One of them intended to rob me.The other did not.
Unfortunately, their communication with each other
was unworthy of partners in crime.
Criminals, like spouses, need to talk to each other.
One of them told me way too much about themselves.
They drove out into the beet fields Northeast of Ft. Lupton,
flashed a gun, relieved me of my $15,
put me out of the car in the middle of nowhere,
and drove off.
Then they remembered they’d told me their names,
their parole officer’s name, where they lived, etc.
Letting me live wasn’t smart.
They came back and ordered me into the car.
But I wasn’t that dumb.
So one got out and tried to drag me in.
Then, the miracle. A car came driving down that lonely dirt road.
I dragged my assailant into the path of the oncoming vehicle.
He let go and I started flagging down the car.
When I saw the driver, I knew I was ok.
He was a fit, clean-cut, young white guy -- my kind of people.
I knew I was saved.
He sped up, nearly killed me, and rushed right past.
The robber resumed pulling me toward their car.
Then, miracle of miracles, another car along.
Again I pulled the robber into car’s lane.
Again, the robber released me.
Again, I started to flag down the car.
But this time when I saw the driver, my heart sank.
She was a Latina mother in a cheap old car
hauling a load of kids.
No way was she going to stop for me in a dangerous situation.
She didn’t stop.
She slowed down, threw open the passenger door
for me to jump in on the run, then hit the gas and sped off.
She turned out to be someone with a strong reason
to avoid situations.
Her family was undocumented.
But if they’d been legally in Mexico
instead of illegally in Colorado,
I’d be pushing up sugar beets in Weld County.
The lawyer had read Leviticus.
He knew salvation depends on loving our neighbor.
But he asked: who is my neighbor? Jesus answered:
A Jew was beaten, robbed, and left by the road.
A priest and Levite came along.
They were bound by race, religion, & nationality
to help their fellow Jew.
But they just passed him by.
Then along came s Samaritan
-- wrong race, wrong religion, wrong nationality.
But he stopped and helped
beyond anything the Jew could expect from his own kind.
Jesus said, “go and do likewise."
So, when the chips were down,
why did I assume the young white guy would save me
and the Latina mother would not?
In the Stone Ages people used tribalism as a survival strategy.
Tribalism -- -- us vs them -- our group vs their group – told them
who they were bound to help
and who they could expect help from.
Evolution passes survival strategies
down through the generations
so it’s with us today
-- White vs Black, Christian vs Muslim,
Liberal vs Conservative, Straight vs. Gay,
Native vs Immigrant.
Dividing into antagonistic groups is wired into all of us.
It’s the way of the world. Enter Jesus.
He said, In this world you will have trouble.
He might have elaborated,
You will have racism, classism,
divisions of religion, politics, and language.
In this world you will have trouble, Jesus said,
but take heart. I have overcome the world.
Jesus can set us free from those constraints that separate us
-- divisions that shackle our minds
and hold us back from full humanity.
They make our hearts tighter,
our minds narrower, and our lives smaller.
But how does that work?
How do we overcome genetically programed prejudice?
Philosopher Martha Nussbaum, calls it participatory imagination,
seeing things through another person’s eyes,
walking in their shoes, feeling what they feel.
Basic empathy expands our experience
and wisdom immeasurably.
It’s a fundamental part of being human.
Nussbaum says today fear is intensifying our divisions.
We are regressing into tribalism,
losing our capacity for participatory imagination.
and our lives are diminished.
I have come that you might have life and have it abundantly.
To make our life abundant,
Jesus teaches us to love our neighbor,
especially our who neighbor is the wrong race,
wrong nationality, wrong religion, wrong language,
wrong sexuality, or wrong political party.
Imagine how things look to that person
and – bam! -- the size of your life doubles.
But how can we possibly
go against genetically wired human nature
to love across the divide?
The answer is enabling, empowering, amazing grace.
Whatever Jesus commands us to do,
he gives us the power to do it.
To love across the divides is a miracle – a supernatural act.
But we can do it – with God’s help.
We just direct our hearts toward anyone Jesus calls us to love,
then pray for Jesus to open our hearts and our eyes.
His grace will do the rest.